I’m A Mental Health Nurse. This Is What It’s Like On The Frontline Of Our Strained Services

Despite our budgets barely rising we saw a 67% rise in young people self-harming last year. I’m proud to be there for vulnerable people in distressing times, writes Steph Langley.
Courtesy of Channel 4
Courtesy of Channel 4
HuffPost UK

No two days are ever the same in my job. I meet people from all walks of life but they have one thing in common – they really need help. Whether they have ended up in A&E having tried to take their own lives or we’ve been contacted by their families who recognise that their loved ones are struggling, our job is to assess what they need and put together a treatment plan.

I work at Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust in a team of 15 which includes nurses, a psychiatrist, practitioners with social care backgrounds and admin support. I’ve been doing my job for 20 years. I used to foster children with challenging behaviours but when I started my training as a nurse it was too difficult to combine the two. Once qualified I worked in adult services and then the opportunity to join the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services team came up.

In July last year we began working with a TV company and allowed the cameras to follow us in our day-to-day work. We wanted to make the programme as we felt it was a way to take away any stigma or taboo about mental health. I think this is an opportunity to show it is nothing to be ashamed of and that talking about it is often the first step to getting help. The series, which starts on Tuesday 21 January on Channel 4, gives an accurate picture of the difficult decisions we make on a day-to-day basis.

These include thinking about the risks and management for every individual. Does the young person need an inpatient admission or can they be treated intensively in the community within their own environment? We always take into account the least restrictive options in terms of supporting young people and their families and find that it is often more appropriate to work with them whilst they remain at home, with their families and friends around to support them in managing their own recovery.

“In the opening moments of the programme I can be seen telling a patient: 'Your goal is to kill yourself; my job is to keep you alive.'”

We also support the family – they can feel alone in their distress and that something will only be done when they’re at crisis point. They often tell us that they have been asking for help for a long time before they hit our service. In the opening moments of the programme I can be seen telling a patient: “Your goal is to kill yourself; my job is to keep you alive.”

The number of young people suffering with emotional distress due to the demands being placed upon them is increasing and services need to evolve to meet those needs. Youngsters are more aware of their mental health than ever before, and social media plays a massive part in this.

Sure Start Centres and school nurses have been axed and kids are under pressure to do well at school. I would really like to see children’s emotional health needs met – not just academic targets. Bullying is also a massive problem. To that end, we have recently set up a team of trailblazers who are going into schools in our area to talk to youngsters about how to look after themselves and be kind to each other.

As well as emotional distress we also work with young people who may have eating disorders, problems with their mood, or use drugs and alcohol in order to attempt to self-manage difficulties. They struggle to tolerate distress and a lot of what we do is to help teach young people how to become more resilient in managing life’s curveballs.

The CAMHS Crisis Team and Liaison service has seen an increase in referrals of young people who are self-harming, having suicidal thoughts sometimes with plans and intent to take their own lives, and there is a growing sense within society of romanticising self-harm. This extends worryingly to online forums and social media platforms, where sadly young people find common ground with their peers and a culture self-harm is fostered.

We’ve always had teenagers with low mood but I think nowadays there are more who are acting out on the self-harm thoughts, more teenagers taking their own lives and I think there’s a lot more young people that actually know somebody who self-harms. One of the questions in the assessment forms is about ‘when did you first get the idea to self-harm?’ And very often you get an answer along the lines of “my friend does it”.

“We alone have seen nearly 5,000 more adults a year being referred to mental health services in Nottinghamshire than ten years ago”

Social connectivity or the lack of it in our modern era has really changed the landscape of how young people cope, understand and manage their emotions and how they develop their identity. Interpersonal effectiveness has, in my view, been hampered by social media, virtual friends and an immediate need for gratification.

We alone have seen nearly 5,000 more adults a year being referred to mental health services in Nottinghamshire than ten years ago, and last year saw a 67% rise in young people self-harming. But our budgets have barely risen leading to resources being strained more than ever before.

I hope that this documentary showcases the great work that dedicated staff working within the NHS do. I also hope it shows more work is needed to ensure these services continue to be funded sufficiently. I’m proud of my trust, the NHS, the people I work with, but most importantly I’m proud and privileged that young people and families allow our team into their lives at the most distressing and vulnerable time and trust us to support them until they no longer need us.

Steph Langley is a child and adolescent mental health nurse, and features in Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency, which starts on Tuesday 21 January at 10pm on Channel 4

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